What Is an Autobiography?

According to Statista, 74% of adults read at least one book in 2018, with Americans spending around $110 per year on reading. Among those books that draw the attention of readers is the autobiography. It’s a story that talks about the significant events in your life leading up who you are now. What makes it different from a biography is how it is written by the very subject of the story and not by someone else. It gives readers a glimpse of a writer’s thoughts and feelings as they go through the different phases of life.

50+ Technical Report Examples, Templates, Format in Word, PDF

The Elements of an Autobiography

When writing about your life, you want to make sure that your audience not only recognizes what you’ve gone through but also the effort you put into creating something compelling enough to entertain and inspire those who read it. Listed below are some key elements of an autobiography to consider.

Characters: Although this is a work of life rather than a fictional write-up, you need to make it possible for readers to picture out who the people in your story are. Bringing these characters to life will allow readers to connect with you on a more personal level, as they begin to understand those around you and how these individuals influenced certain events in your life in some way.Setting: This refers to the place in and the time at which the story occurs. The setting of the story contributes to the environment with which the characters interact as each event unfolds. As a writer of your memoir, don’t limit your setting to the time of day or the historical context of occurrence. Other factors, such as the weather, the light, and the texture of surfaces that characters come in contact with, can affect the feel of your story. In some cases, you can even let the setting act as a character in your story.Details: What’s a story without the right details? Unlike films and television shows, readers can’t visualize an event without the help of the author. Writing an autobiography demands you to be both imaginative and realistic at the same time. Objective details verify the authenticity of an event, while subjective details describe your personal feelings and opinions on certain matters. Anecdotes are also used to add humor to the story and help illustrate a point.Order: The events in an autobiography are based on the real-life experiences of the author. Thus, it only makes sense to arrange them from childhood to adulthood. Following a chronological order of events makes it easier for readers to understand how something happened and why. It shows the outcome of each decision, including the aftermath of every misfortune. Authors often map out these events clearly on paper before they begin writing their memoir. Point of View: Autobiographies are typically written in the first-person point of view. Since you are the subject of the story, using the pronouns I, me, and mine are essential to allow readers to see things from the writer’s perspective. You have to present information in the same way you feel about it. This includes your opinions on specific actions and characters that play a role in each event. And because it’s meant to be subjective, don’t feel bad about sounding too biased about the things around you.Author’s Purpose: You must have a reason for writing. No one in their right mind would dedicate so much time and effort into writing about their life if they didn’t have a purpose for doing it. It doesn’t matter how shallow or how deep your reasons are, as long as it inspired you to open up and share your story. You may also want to give credit to the people who influenced you into making that decision. Those who have become the subject of controversy prior to or because of writing the autobiography often have to explain themselves or justify their actions to clear the air.

How to Write an Autobiography

The hardest part of writing an autobiography is getting started. It’s not easy to put decades’ worth of ups and downs into a notebook and journal, let alone a book that you plan to publish for other people to read. Fortunately, you can ease the process by breaking the steps down to something more manageable. Whatever your motivation is for writing the memoir, these steps can help you get through the process as effortlessly as possible.

Step 1: Create a Timeline

Begin writing about your life story by doing some research about yourself. An excellent way to make sure you cover all the most essential times in your life is by putting all these data into an event timeline. This is the part where you start brainstorming on details that are worth highlighting in your memoir. It doesn’t have to begin from the day you were born, as you could always focus on the later years of life that made a difference in your upbringing. You can write about your life as a student, as well as your career, relationships, and other life-altering events that you care to share.

Step 2: Identify the Main Characters

Every story comes with a set of characters. This could be your friends and your foes, or generally the people who influenced your life somehow. To make things more interesting, you can even note the protagonists and antagonists in your story to add drama and conflict where you need them. Old friends and bitter exes can even co-star in some lines of your story. It’s important to think beyond your immediate family to others who caused you tears and joys through every milestone you ever achieved. While it isn’t necessary to dedicate an entire chapter to play out their roles in your story, it’s still essential to let your readers know why these individuals deserve a shutout in your autobiography.

Step 3: Note Down the Best Memories

It will take forever for you to write down your entire life story, so you’ll have to decide what you want to include to paint a clear picture of your life. It’s a good idea to approach the situation with a project plan that you could follow. Some topics that might fascinate readers include one’s childhood story, coming-of-age story, falling-in-love story, mid-life crisis story, and other relevant issues that might have changed your life for the better or worse.

Once you have everything down on paper, you can pull it all together to draft the main body of your autobiography.

Step 4: Make it Revealing

People read autobiographies to see what it’s like in someone else’s shoes. Therefore, all you have to do to interest readers is to be yourself. Write as if you’re opening your heart out to someone close to you, but in a sense that is clear and organized for them to grasp. It’s about giving your story a personality that reflects your own. It doesn’t matter how funny, dramatic, or spiritual you want it to be, as long as it reveals your true self in the purest form.

Step 5: Capture the Spirit of the Times

Apart from what’s happening in your inner circle, talk about the events occurring in the real world. It’s a smart way of making your story sound even more compelling as you also try to make your readers understand the proper sequence of the events you are describing.

The Dos and Don’ts of an Autobiography

The basis of a successful autobiography is the author’s ability to present a story worth telling. Unless you’ve already made a career of writing, creating an autobiography won’t be a walk in the park. There are a ton of things you’ll want to talk about, whether it’s your notion on a particular social issue or your personal views about someone who is a big part of your life. While it might seem quite intimidating at first, you’ll eventually get the hang of it. The following dos and don’ts of writing an autobiography should help you refine your writing skills and put you on the right path to creating the perfect narrative.

Dos

1. Do understand your intended audience. 

There’s a difference between writing for your friends and family and writing for a group of strangers. The latter requires you to be more detailed about the events and experiences in your life that shaped you into becoming who you are now. You need to be more explicit when you describe your memories and views on events, including some interesting facts and tales that you consider significant.

2. Do develop a core concept. 

Regardless of the kind of story that you’re writing about, whether it’s fictional or non-fictional, you need to identify the central theme behind it. A solid outline should help you determine the proper way of associating one event with another without overlooking the theme of your autobiography. This will set the mood and tone of your autobiography to weave continuity and uniformity among events. This can also pique the interest of readers and establish a connection with those who could relate to what you went through by keeping your story consistent from the beginning to end.

3. Do tell the truth. 

Tell it as it is. Don’t paint yourself as the hero or villain in the story. It can be tempting to play the victim during times of misfortune, especially if these events took a significant toll on your physical, mental, and emotional state. But you’re not the only character in the story, and a one-sided view of the event isn’t fair for those who have no way of defending themselves. Keep in mind that we’re all bad guys in someone else’s story, so exaggerating the truth will only bring you more bad than good. Instead, acknowledge your mistakes, and don’t be afraid to expose your weaknesses alongside your strengths. Failure is a part of the story that even others can learn from.

4. Do allow it to rest from time to time. 

Every time you finish a chapter of your book or a page of your essay, take a rest. You don’t want to overwhelm yourself with the whole process of recalling old memories and translating them on paper. When you’re ready, read over what you’ve written and do some editing. See whether your ideas flow logically and be on the lookout for interrupted thoughts. Writing an autobiography takes time, so don’t feel pressured to fill those pages for the sake of it. It’s always better to spend months perfecting your work than to waste weeks of your life on a half-baked output.

5. Do seek feedback. 

While your friends and family might seem like an obvious choice, acquaintances make up a more honest audience for the initial review of your work. You can ask them to read certain sections of your autobiography and provide you with feedback. However, don’t feel compelled to change parts of your work to conform to how others remember it. You have every right to present how an event occurred based on what you’ve experienced at the time. We all choose to recall events based on how we felt during those moments, so be sure to know the difference between fair criticism and forced judgment.

Don’ts

1. Don’t give away every detail of your life. 

Like a children’s book, it’s important to incorporate some of the elements and structure of fiction into your autobiography. Consider character development, struggle, and resolution when creating your story. If you want to focus your points on the relationship you have with your partner, skip the unnecessary details and go straight to the ones that matter. Choose to share bits and pieces of information that relate directly to the main message of your story.

2. Don’t worry too much about hurting other people.

If you want to keep things explicit, some parts of your story may have a detrimental effect on the people from your inner circle. Most authors make sure to address these matters with the people involved before having their autobiography published. It’s essential to ask people permission to write about them as a sign of privacy and respect. As an alternative, you can also try changing names, tweaking events, and rearranging details to keep from disclosing the people who don’t want to be a part of the autobiography. Though some readers may have their speculations on who you are referring to in your memoir, you already did what you could to protect a person’s identity from being exposed.

3. Don’t try to please everyone. 

Resist the urge to write to a broad audience. The last thing you want to do is to make a story that’s either too generic or too specific for readers to relate to. Instead, it’s a good idea to target a defined audience. This will drive you to write a memoir that will leave a much stronger impact on readers. The objective is to write an autobiography that can evoke the right emotions from a particular group of people—not to earn a good review or to earn a spot on the best-seller list, but to leave a positive effect on others.

4. Don’t tell readers why your story is inspiring. 

You have nothing to prove to your audience. If your purpose is to inspire people with your story, let them see the silver lining on their own. It’s about showing your readers how you felt instead of telling them directly. Allow your audience to come to this conclusion through your way of writing out your thoughts. You must know where to draw the line between writing an autobiography and a self-help book.

5. Don’t copy someone else’s story. 

It’s a terrible mistake to copy someone else’s style of writing in an attempt to make yours as compelling. What makes a memoir so fascinating is how no two are the same. Everyone has a story to tell, not to mention a particular way of sharing it. Hence, it’s essential to find your voice. Find your hook and optimize points that are not only unique but marketable as well. The only one who really knows what is worth emphasizing in the story is yourself, so make sure you think things through before you begin writing.

Autobiographies aim to educate, inform, or inspire others in some ways. It can be very therapeutic to readers, especially to those who could relate to your story wholeheartedly. It enables the writer to bridge the gap between individuals of different backgrounds and forge connections between those of old and new generations.